Grand Ph.D., (IUFS Russia), M.Phil., (Sri Lanka), B.Sc., (India)







"It is immoral that adults want children to fight their wars for them. There is simply No Excuse. No acceptable argument for Arming Children"


The Most Rev. Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Concern is growing about the increasing use of child soldiers in armed conflicts around the world. However, it may not be enough to just condemn or prohibit the recruitment of children. We need to ask why children join clandestine armies. If we are to prevent children fighting we need to understand the conditions under which children become soldiers and work to improve these conditions. This case study that of Sri Lanka may shed some light on the issues.


Wars are fought by adults. The use of children in combat activities is revolting, especially when children are drawn into violent conflict for the fact of being children. There are two major factors behind children being preferred for soldiering. Firstly, recruiting and maintaining children is cost-effective. They eat less; wear less; and are paid less. But, when it comes to work, they are treated like adults fighting on frontlines, carrying heavy war supplies and at times, injured or dead soldiers, cleaning, guarding and cooking.  Unlike their adult colleagues, fearlessness and ignorance of children are manipulated to employ them on the most hazardous tasks like laying and cleaning landmines and handling toxic weapons. All these services are available at lower costs. 

Secondly, grooming children into becoming soldiers is not difficult. They are highly motivated for one reason or the other, which actually pushes them to join soldiering. They can be easily intimidated and are most obedient. Due to less experience, emotional immaturity, and high ignorance, they are highly vulnerable to manipulation. Children can be easily persuaded to switch sides by threats or inducements. Thus one can find many instances of the same children fighting on opposite sides during civil wars. However, those children who continue to stay on in a particular armed group for a long period till their adulthood, became fanatic soldiers as a result of protracted indoctrination.  Constant exposure to violence since a young age results in decentralization and alienation from normal social life. Such recruits are ideal for suicide missions that demand complete indifference towards their own and others' suffering. (N. Manoharan, Research Officer IPCS, Child Soldiers ii: Preference for Children and Preference by Children, Article No. 1166, 30 September 2003).

Children are forced to get involved in soldiering for different reasons. The United Nations report on 'impact of Armed Conflict on Children' (1996) notes that 'one of the most basic reasons for children joining armed groups is economic.' For orphan children, joining armed groups is attractive to guarantee themselves with basic necessities like food clothing and shelter. At times, poverty forces parents to offer their children for fighting in return for money. However, the children of parents involved themselves in armed conflicts drift into soldiering by default. If there is strong prevalence of violence within a particular community in a conflict area, there is a greater likelihood of children belonging to such communities to be part of hostilities on one side or the other. In these circumstances, a gun in their hands is a safer option rather than being without one. Such instances are found in conflict ridden African countries like Congo, Angola, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sierra Leone. The children also pick up guns for the thrill, passion and power behind wielding weapons. But, most child recruitment takes place by force. Kidnappings and press ganging are popular methods in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Known as afesa in Ethiopia, children are picked up in streets by roaming security forces personnel. Orphans, displaced and street children are potential victims.

Propaganda (print, electronic and internet), widely used by armed groups, also persuades children to enroll themselves en masse. The LTTE is notorious for employing this technique to attract school children to its cadres. A sense of guilt is inculcated in the children's mind to make them believe that resort to arms at the earliest is the only way to defend their families and communities. War is glorified and a 'cult of martyrdom' created to lure children on the grounds of national liberation (Suthanthiram), social reform, or defending religion. (N. Manoharan, Research Officer IPCS, Child Soldiers ii: Preference for Children and Preference by Children, Article No. 1166, 30 September 2003).


Armed Conflict in Sri Lanka     


The armed conflict in Sri Lanka lasted over three decades from year 1975 to year 2009. During the conflict period the LTTE which is rated as the most deadliest terrorist organization recruited child soldiers for war purposes to fight the security forces of the GoSL. This was a serious problem in Sri Lanka.

The principal internal conflict that plagued Sri Lanka since it gained its independence from the British in 1948 revolves aroundthe tamil campaign for a separate state in the north and east of the country. The roots of this struggle date back to tamil resentment of sinhalese standardization polices that were introduced during 1950s, 1960s, and 1970,s in an attempt to rectify ethnic discrimination that the majority community felt they had been subjected to under the British colonial rule. This led to the emergence of a hard-line and nationalistic political party named the Tamil United Front (TUF) in 1972. The TUF, renaming itself the Tamil United front (TULF), contested the 1977 Sri Lankan general elections on a mandate that called for the creation of a fully independent and sovereign “Tamil Eelam”. (Rohan Gunaratne, Sri Lanka's Ethnic Crisis and National Security, 1998). p.133. While the TULF was prepared to agitate for independence through the accepted democratic political means, a hardcore section among the tamils viewed non-democratic-political violence as the only means by which  Tamil nationalist objectives could be achieved.

During the 1970s, these militants formed a variety of underground militant groups dedicated to armed struggle against the GoSL using the TULF as a secondary vehicle or political representation. Initially thirty-five militant groups were created, of which five quickly achieved dominance. These were: TELO; PLOTE; EPRLF; EROS; and the TNT, later renamed LTTE.   Of these five groups, it was the LTTE that gradually emerged as the most powerful force, led by Velupillai Pribhakaran. The group's main objective was (and remains) the establishment of an independent tamil state a “Tamil Eelam”, comprising the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka and under the control of one party socialist government.

During latter half of the 1970, the LTTE carried out sporadic attacks against the Sri Lankan police and moderate tamil politicians, suspected informants and sinhalese civilians. However, the communal riots of 1983 initiated the most serious phase of the tamil insurgency. One factor that considerably benefited the tamil insurgency during the 1980s was the overseas support, with the TULF doing an effective propaganda work branding the Sri Lankan state as a government guilty of discrimination and ethnic genocide. Despite sporadic peace negotiations with the Sri Lankan government, the LTTE continued its violent struggle for independence well into 1990s.  The GoSL did respond equally forcefully in what it became an increasingly bloody counter insurgency campaign. Most military operations were directed towards eliminating the main LTTE strong hold in Jaffna. Although the LTTE was driven out of Jaffna in 1995, the group continued to effectively rule Wanni and a part of the East. (Rajat Ganguly/Ian Macduff, Ethnic Conflict and Secessionism in South and Southeast Asia, Sage Publications, New Delhi, India, 2003). p. 130.


The GoSL could not find a peaceful solution for the armed conflict as the LTTE believed only in war but not in peace. Finally, the security forces of the GoSL under the political leadership of His Excellency the President Mr.Mahinda Rajapaksa totally crushed the LTTE militarily in May, 2009. Until such time since late 1970s the problem of child soldiers existed in Sri Lanka.


Definition of a “Child”


A child is most often defined as a young human being between birth and puberty; a boy or girl. The legal definition of child generally refers to minor, otherwise known as a person younger than the age majority. "Child" may also describe a relationship with parent or authority figure, or signify group membership in a clan, tribe, or religion; or it can signify being strongly affected by a specific time, or place, or circumstance, as in  'a child of nature ' or "a child of the Sixties. The age at which children are considered responsible for their own actions has also changed over time, and this is reflected in the way they are treated in courts of law. In Roman times, children were regarded as not culpable for crimes, a position later adopted by the church. In the nineteenth century, children younger than seven years old were believed incapable of crime. Children from the age of seven were considered responsible for their actions. Therefore, they could face criminal charges, be sent to adult prisons and be punished like adults by whipping.


Military use of Children  - Child Soldiers


"We must not close our eyes to the fact that child soldiers are both victims and perpetrators. They sometimes carry out the most barbaric acts of violence. But no matter what the child is guilty of, the main responsibility lies with us, the adults. Children are easily coerced into doing things they would never have done in a normal situation."

-The Most Reverend Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The military use of children takes three distinct forms: children can take direct part in hostilities (child soldiers), or they can be used in support roles such as porters, spies, messengers, look outs, suicide bombs, and sexual slaves: or they can be used for political advantage either as human shields or in propaganda. Throughout the history and in many cultures, children have been extensively involved in military campaigns even when such practices were supposedly against cultural morals. Since the 1970s a number of International Conventions have come into effect that try to limit the participation of children in armed conflicts, nevertheless a coalition to stop the use of Child Soldiers reports that the use of children in military forces and active participation of children in armed conflicts is widespread.


'Red Hand Day', on 12 February is an annual commemoration day to draw public attention to the practice of using children as soldiers in wars and armed conflicts. According to Human Rights Watch: "In over twenty countries around the world, children are direct participants in war. Denied a childhood and often subjected to horrific violence an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 children are serving as soldiers for both rebel groups and government forces in current armed conflicts."(Staff Campaign Page: Child Soldiers, Human Rights Watch).


UN Definition


The United Nations Convention on the rights of the Child defines a child as every human being below the age of 18 years under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier. It is biologically defined as anyone in the developmental stage of childhood, between infancy and adulthood.

Under Article 8.2.26 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), adopted in July 1998 and came into force 0n 01 July 2002, "Conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities" is a war crime. (Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court - Article 08, War Crimes). On 26 July 2005, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed UN Security Council resolution 1612, the sixth in a series of resolutions about children and armed conflict. Resolution 1612 established the first comprehensive monitoring and reporting system for enforcing compliance among those groups using child soldiers in armed conflict. (Children and Armed Conflict: International Law/United Nations by the Center for Defence Information, 12 October 2005).

Official Definition of a Child Soldier - from Cape Town Principals

“A child soldier is any person under 18 years of age who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to cooks, porters, messengers and anyone accompanying such groups, other than family members. The definition includes girls recruited for sexual purposes and for forced marriage. It does not, therefore, only refer to a child who is carrying or has carried arms”.

From: Cape Town Principles and Best Practices on the Recruitment of Children into the Armed Forces and on Demobilization and Social Reintegration of Child Soldiers in Africa (Cape Town, 27-30 April 1997). (UNICEF Children and Armed Conflict for more information).


Relevant Articles in the United Nations Convention on the  Rights of the Child (1989)

Article 38


1.            States parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for rules of international humanitarian law applicable to them in armed conflicts which are relevant to child.

2.            States parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities.

3.            States parties shall refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of fifteen years into their armed forces. In recruiting among those persons who have attained the age of fifteen years but who have not attained the age of eighteen years, state parties shall endeavor to give priority to those who are oldest.

4.            In accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect the civilian population in armed conflicts, states parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict.


The important articles are, Article 39, Article 6, Article 9, Article 23, Article 24, Article 26, Article 27, Article 30, Article 31, and Article 34 which speaks of various rights of the child and the responsibilities of the state and other parties.


International Legal Framework banning Child soldiering


1.            Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (enacted 25 May 2000 and entry into force 12 February 2002). The Optional Protocol's plan, known as the "Straight 18" position,

(i)           prohibits governments and armed groups from using children under the age of 18 in conflict:

(ii)          bans all compulsory recruitment of under 18:

(iii)         bans voluntary recruitment of under 18 by armed groups;

(iv)         raises the minimum age and requires strict safeguards for voluntary recruitment.


(Adoption by the UN General Assembly of a new treaty prohibiting the use of children under age eighteen in combat Coalition to stop the use of Child Soldiers, New York, 25 May 2000).


2.            The 1977 Additional Protocols I and II to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) set 15 as the minimum age for recruitment and deployment in war. (The age was later raised to 18 under Optional Protocol of the Convention).

3.            The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, adopted by the Organisation of African unity (OAU) in 1990 which came into force in November 1999, is the only regional treaty in the world which addresses the issue of child soldiers.

4.            The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998) provides jurisdiction to the ICC over the use of child soldiers in both international and intra-national armed conflicts.

5.            ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention was adopted on 17 June 1999 and came into force on 19 November 2000

6.            UN Security Council Resolutions 1261 and 1314 that condemned the use of children in armed conflicts and called for concerted international action to stop the menace. (N. Manoharan, research Officer, IPCS, child Soldiers Factual Overview, Article No 1160, 25 September 2003).


The Optional Protocol (Article 04) further obligates states to take all feasible measures to prevent such recruitment and use, including the adoption of legal measures necessary to prohibit and criminalize such practices. Likewise under the Optional Protocol (Article 06(3), states are required to demobilize children within jurisdiction who have been recruited or used in hostilities and to provide assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration. (UNICEF: Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child).


Legal Situation in Sri Lanka


The United Nation Convention on child rights (CRC), (1989), is a statement on international standards on child rights that the world community has endorsed.  The convention has been ratified by Sri Lanka, by its Charter on Child Rights (1992) has attempted to formulate the National Policy that reflects standards specified in the CRC. Thus by ratifying the convention and also by providing a guideline to national endeavours and interventions in the form of the charter Sri Lanka seeks to ensure the protection of Child Rights. As a signatory to this convention The Government of Sri Lanka enacted a new legislation named National Child Protection Authority Act No. 50 of 1998 which was passed by the Parliament on 12 November 1998. Based on this Act, The National Child Protection Authority was established for the purpose of formulating national policy on the prevention of child abuse and the protection and treatment of children who are victims of such abuse: for the coordination and monitoring of action against all forms of child abuse and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.


Interpretation - Section 39.   In this Act unless otherwise requires--


"child" means a person less than eighteen years of age


"child abuse" means any act or omission relating to a child which would amount to a contravention of any of the provisions of--


(a)  Sections 286 A, 288, 288 A, 308 A, 360 A, 360 B, 363, 364 A, 365, 365 A or 365 B of the Penal Code

(b)  the Employment of Women, Young Persons and children Act:

(c)  the Children and Young Persons Ordinance or

(d)  the regulation relating to compulsory education made under the Education Ordinance

and includes the involvement of a child in armed conflict which is likely to endanger the child's life or is likely to harm such child physically or emotionally.


Powers of inspection search and to enter any premises are provided in Sections 33 and 34 of this act, whilst Section 35 provides the poser for this authority to seize articles.  Offences under this act are described under Section 37 of this Act.  


In February 2006, the Sri Lankan Penal Code was amended to make "engaging/recruiting children for use in armed conflict" a crime punishable by 20 years' imprisonment.


LTTE Child Soldiers- The Leopard Brigade


The LTTE has been widely condemned for its use of children as frontline combatants. According to informed sources, boys and girls as young as nine years old were dispatched to active conflict zones, with intelligence personnel estimating that as many as 60 per cent of LTTE cadres are below the age of eighteen. Even if this figure is somewhat exaggerated, conservative assessments of LTTE fighters killed in action reveal that at least 40 per cent are between the ages of nine and eighteen. According to Garca Machel, the former First Lady of Mozambique who has made a special study of child soldiers for the UN, 20 per cent of LTTE injured personnel were between the ages of ten and fourteen during recruitment. (Garca Machel, The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children (New York, United Nations, 1997). While the LTTE has denied such accusations, itself accusing the Sri Lankan military of targeting innocent tamil children, dedications to the group's war dead, shown every month in propaganda videos, invariably include images of combatants well under the age of eighteen. (Rajat Ganguly/Ian Macduff, Ethnic Conflict and Secessionism in South and Southeast Asia, Sage Publications, New Delhi, India, 2003). p. 135.


All fighting cadres are carefully indoctrinated on the authorized position: they are fighting against an unresponsive and discriminatory sinhalese majority for a separate state-“Eelam”. The cadres must banish all fear of death from their minds and be prepared to lay down their lives fighting the Sri Lankan forces or consume the cyanide pill fastened around their necks when capture is imminent. The LTTE placed immense emphasis on the cult of martyrdom. LTTE cadres were known for their high sense of discipline, dedication, strong determination, a high degree of motivation and innovation. Men, women and children-both boys and girls-comprised its cadres.  A deliberate policy of recruiting women and children into LTTE cadres was initiated after signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka accord in 1987, to offset a severe shortage of manpower, because of ever increasing casualties and the escalation of the conflict. It is reported that the LTTE abducted children from areas under its control to fill its dwindling ranks, and an estimated 1600 children were in LTTE rank.


The LTTE has a long record of recruiting children for combat, irrespective of gender, children as young as none years are conscripted mostly by coercion: the average child recruitment age stands at 14 to 17 years. Though the exact number of child soldiers with the LTTE is not available, there are nearly 700 complaints pending with UNICEF on forced recruitment. The actual figure however could be 10 times higher, given the fact that majority of the people do not complain. In the year 2002 alone nearly 300 children were roped in by the LTTE to augment its strength. (N.Manoharan, Research Officer IPCS, Child Soldiers of the LTTE iii, Article No. 1184, 21 October 2003).




LTTE always believed in aggression, vengeance, violence and war to gain “Suthanthiram” (independence). The LTTE leader believed in spilling sweat and blood in their struggle for 'Suthanthiram' (independence). For 'Suthanthiram' individual life is sacrificed. In 1990 the LTTE leader Pribhakaran said; 'having spilled sweat, having spilled blood, obtaining death with unbearable sorrow, (after this there is) independence. Without independence (Suthanthiram) there is no meaning in the life of man.'(Peter Schalk, Temenos 33, Revival of Martyr Cult, 1997, Pp. 151-190). War created hatred, fear, poverty, dependence, orphans, displacement and refugees. These child destitute or refugees subsequently became recruits of the LTTE.

LTTE recruitment of children has been exacerbated by several socio-economic factors. A sophisticated propaganda apparatus exposing children to heroism in the battlefield and the glamour of serving as cadres (brainwashing), and “deprivation, including poverty and lack of vocational and educational opportunities often fueled recruitment. Enlisting in the LTTE was perceived as a positive alternative to other options children saw around them.” (Human Rights Watch (HRW). The most condemned of all forms of the LTTE recruitment modus operandi is coercion which brought many children into the LTTE. Every family was obligated to provide a son or daughter for the cause/movement. Any attempts of resistance by families were futile: family members were subject to threat and harassments and the child eventually was taken by force. Abductions also featured prominently on the LTTE recruitment procedure, leaving many parents no option but to prevent children from attending school for fear of being forcefully conscripted.

Once recruited, most of the children are allowed no contact with their families. The LTTE subjects them to rigorous and sometimes brutal training. They learned to handle weapons, including landmines and bombs and through military tactics. Children who make mistakes are frequently beaten. The LTTE harshly punished soldiers who attempted to escape. Children who try to run away are typically beaten in front of their entire unit, a public punishment that serves to dissuade other children who might be tempted to run away. (Human Rights Watch (HRW).


Known as 'Sirasu Puli (Smiling Tiger) @ Leopard Brigade, baby brigades of the LTTE are composed entirely of children. It is one of the LTTE's most fierce fighting forces. The child recruitment system of the tigers is sophisticated, using prominent places of congregation schools, health campaigns, immunization sites, festivals or religious or social gatherings for propaganda or enticement. Public displays of war paraphernalia, funerals and posters of fallen heroes; speeches and videos, particularly in schools; and heroic, melodious songs and stories all severed to draw out feelings of patriotism and create compelling milieu-indeed, a martyr cult. In addition the severe restrictions imposed by the LTTE on civilians leaving areas controlled by them, particularly for younger children, did create a feeling of entrapment as well as ensuring a continued source of recruits. The LTTE did introduce compulsory military type training in areas under their control, instilling military thinking. Everyone beginning from the age of about 14 was compelled to undergo training in military drill, use of arms and mock battlers together with military task such as digging bunkers and manning sentry points.


Cult of martyrdom is emphasized among the children in general and each family is encouraged to contribute one child. Attention is drawn prominently to verses from the ancient Tamil literary collection, Puranaanooru (400 poems of war and wisdom) that romanticizes mothers pride in anointing their sons and sending them to win glory or honourable death in war. Abduction is resorted to if the families fail to contribute their quota. To save their children many families flee safer places far away under the control of the government. For the orphaned, displaced and poor, joining the rebel ranks is an attractive option in which financial packages are offered to both the enrollers and their family members. Child recruitment by the LTTE became institutionalized after 1990. However, the Tigers sophistically deny forceful recruitment of children. But at the same time, it does not deny the presence of children in its fighting forces claiming that "they are volunteers who came forward to serve. They argue that conscripted soldier will not be a fighting person and the victories that the LTTE has established show that we have committed soldiers. It is also claimed that children are coming to us because of the atrocities by the sinhala army. We are not recruiting them. This was the famous version of the LTTE which was totally false.




Normally, a training programme runs through for four months. At times, owing to the exigency of immediate requirement on the battlefield, the programme was cut short by three months. The cadres, children, begin their day early. They are required to fall in at 5.00 am. Thereafter, they go through physical training followed by training in battle and field craft and parade drill. Further into the day, child combatants read LTTE literature. Some more physical training and instruction on communications, explosives and intelligence gathering follow.


Induction onto the field commences with attacking less defended targets. For instance, they are sent to attack villages that do not have any significant armed cover. On the battlefield, the child combatants fought and died much like the adult soldiers. They participated, in daring attacks to capture weapons as well as territory.


Child Soldiers in Action


Several factors point to the severity of life as an LTTE cadre. The LTTE used children in high profile battles indiscriminately. In one of the fiercest military offensives against the Sri Lankan armed forces at Elephant Pass military complex in 1991 the LTTE is reported to have used scores of children drawn from its famous 'Baby Brigade.' The offensive resulted in an estimated 550 deaths, mostly children. (LTTE Child Combatants by Rohan Gunartna in Jane's Intelligence Review).


Initially, the children are used as guards, cooks and helpers and then as messengers and spies. Gradually they are inducted into the fighting forces firstly in battlefield support functions and later in active combat. The children are given education in "special aims at indoctrinating them. Children are a preferred choice for soldiering so as to make them better defenders of “Eelam” in the future. The naval wing chief Soosai, who joined the LTTE at 13 year and the LTTE chief, V. Prabhakaran, himself, who became a militant in his teens, are cited as examples. But such belief ignores the fact that most of the children who are sent to the battlefront never come back alive.


The LTTE's child soldiers saw their first recorded major action on November 22, 1990. In this attack on the Mankulam army camp, several Sri Lankan troops were killed and the camp was vacated by troops after two days of clashes. Their second major action was the attack on the strategic Elephant Pass Military Complex less than a year later, on July 10, 1991. The Tigers suffered heavy casualties in this attack. An estimated 550 LTTE cadres, including children, were killed in these clashes. Learning from its failures during the July 1991 operations, the LTTE changed the composition of its attacking groups. It put the child cadres together with elite Black Tiger cadres and gained fool results.


The fiercest of all LTTE-fighting units, analysts have noted, is the Leopard Brigade, or Siruthai Puli. It consists exclusively of children whose unswerving loyalty to tiger chief Prabhakaran and their commitment have attracted considerable attention. The child combatants themselves have suffered numerous casualties in various clashes. In October 1995, in the attack on the Weli Oliya military complex, regarded by analysts as the worst-ever set back to the child fighters, some 300 cadres, a vast majority of them children and woman, were killed by government troops. Official sources disclosed that in one battle alone, in September / October, 1998, at Kilinochchi, over 500 child soldiers might have been killed, around the same time, in all, an estimated 1,700 LTTE cadres had died in battles at Kilinochchi, Paranathan and Mankulam. The killed child combatants, along with several women fighters, constituted the frontlines in those battles. Soon after, the LTTE reportedly stepped up its recruitment drive among children in the eastern Batticaloa district to make up for lost cadres. 26 LTTE child soldiers, including four girls who surrendered to the armed forces at Mankulam, in early October 1998, disclosed that the LTTE kidnapped and recruited them into is fighting forces. Some of them were picked up from their homes while some others were hustled into a waiting vehicle. (South Asia Terrorism Portal, Institute for Conflict Management, Child Soldiers of LTTE, 2001-


The surrender of these child soldiers was accorded international publicity. Soon, thereafter, at a meeting held in New York. Prf. G.L. Peiris, Sri Lanka's Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, and Olara Otunnu, the United Nations Secretary General Special Rapporteur for Children and Armed Conflict, Otunnu expressed his disappointment at the LTTE's breach of pledge. The LTTE had earlier promised him that it would not recruit children less than 17 years of age and would not deploy them before they attained 18 years of age.


In 2003, Sri Lanka's rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continued to recruit child soldiers in contravention of international law. UNICEF reports indicate that the LTTE recruited 709 children in 2002 and continues to hold about 1,300 children despite promises to release all children within its ranks. Only about 300 children have been released so far. (World Press Review Vol. 51, No. 4, A Former Child Soldier Speaks Out, April 2004).


LTTE Disregarding International Human Rights Norms/Conventions


The LTTE has habitually disregarded every international effort in discouraging child soldiering. In fact, during the visit of special representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara A Ottunu, to Sri Lanka from 3-9 May 1998, the LTTE leadership undertook "not to use children below 18 years of age in combat and not to recruit children less than 17 years old.” The LTTE also accepted that a framework to monitor these commitments should be put in place. During the fifth round of peace talks in Berlin in February 2003 the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka requested UNICEF to play a substantial role in establishing shared programmes to address the needs of up to 50,000 children affected by war.


As a follow-up, a rehabilitation centre was opened in Kilinochchi by the UNICEF and Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) in October 2003. But was the LTTE truly committed to the rehabilitation of child soldiers? If there was sincerity then it should have been reflected in the absence of fresh recruitment as well. But the fact is that conscription of children skyrocketed especially after the ceasefire agreement (February 2002). Free movement of Tigers into government controlled areas as per provisions of the agreement enabled them to increase the strength of the Leopard Brigade. (N.Manoharan, Research Officer IPCS, Child Soldiers of the LTTE iii; Article No. 1184, 21 October 2003).


Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar, Sri Lanka's Minister of Foreign Affairs, addressing a conference held in Canada in year 2000, re- War affected children said; …" in 1998 at the invitation of my government the Secretary General's Special representative for Children and Armed conflict, Mr. Olara Otunnu, visited Sri Lanka, and obtained from the Tamil Tiger Leaders the assurance that they would not recruit any young person under the age of 17 and would not send into battle any person below 18. A few months ago he stated there are continuous reports of the recruitment and use of children by the tamil tigers. In a poignant answer to a question the Special Representative said…'Children who become soldiers lose their innocence. Part of the reason why the fighting groups will tend to reach out to children is because, of course, the adults may become disillusioned, they may be killed off, they may run away, so they reach the children who are less able to defend themselves. But there's more cynical reason; that children, because they are innocent, can be moulded into the most unquestioning, ruthless tools of warfare, into suicide, commandos, into committing the worst atrocities. In other situations, it is ideology - come fight for the homeland, come fight for our ethnic group, come fight for a new society - that may appeal to families and to children. So there are many reasons which facilitate the abuse of children in this way." (L.K. Kadirgamar address to the International Conference on War Affected Children, Winnpeg, Canada, 17 September 2000).


He further stated: "A few months ago the UNICEF representative in Sri Lanka told journalists that the situation of children in the areas held by the tamil tigers had worsened since the visit of the Special Representative."Some parents have reported to us that their children have been recruited. It is a serious problem", he said. He added "until the LTTE announce to their own people that they have measures to prevent children below 17 years being recruited, we cannot take their promises seriously". I thank UNICEF for bringing this sad state of affairs to public attention." (L.K. Kadirgamar address to the International Conference on War Affected Children, Winnpeg, Canada, 17 September 2000).


Mr. Kadirgamar further stated; "Mr. President today from this podium in Winnipeg I call for international solidarity in implementing that Convention and Protocol, vis-à-vis the offending non-State actor, the “Tamil Tigers”, who operate on the territory of our state; the rationale for this position being that the “Tamil Tigers” sustain their criminal activities, their military campaign, their deployment of child soldiers, through funds raised on the territories of other state parties which are obliged to cooperate in terms of the Protocol and the Convention. The scale of these funds is staggering -estimated by reputed sources to be in the region of 3 to 4 million US dollars a month." (L.K. Kadirgamar address to the International Conference on War Affected Children, Winnpeg, Canada, 17 September 2000).


This exposure along with other ceasefire violations and undemocratic acts of the LTTE, led to the proscription of the LTTE organization in the USA, Canada, India and the European Union. Many Sri Lankan believed that Mr. Kaidrgamar was responsible for getting many courtiers to classify the LTTE as a terrorist organization, which ultimately led to several setbacks to the LTTE in the international arena. The LTTE leader thereafter labeled Mr. Kadirgamar as 'drohi' (traitor) of the “Tamil Nationalist” cause.


Revenge is a part of the LTTE's ideology. Irrespective of the victim's direct relevance to a contemporary political or security situation, an analysis of the killings and assassinations by the LTTE would prove in most cases that the act is committed as a part of its vendetta. However, revenge for the LTTE is neither a rational calculation nor an emotional outburst: it is a part of its ideology. LTTE's vendetta against those people who were considered to be acting against the interests of the organization (not necessarily against the interests of the Sri Lankan Tamils) has been continuous, irrespective of whether it is engaged in a political process with the GoSL or military hostilities.  Lakshman Kadirgamar's assassination should be seen in this perspective. (D. Suba Chandran, Assistant Director, IPCS. Sri Lanka, LTTE and Lakshman Kadirgamar: Revenge as an Ideology, 2005).



The defeat of the LTTE instantaneously spells out an end to recruitment of children. However, now the question of rehabilitation is very important. Rehabilitation of child soldiers is a thorny and complicated process: thorny and complicated because these children have been brutalized, used to carry out killings, and have quite naturally wielded life and death power over adults in their communities.


Society's Complicity


In the face of open recruitment of children, Tamil socio-cultural and religious institutions failed to protest. No Tamil leader dared to condemn it. General social deterioration caused by the war; and partly to totalitarian control of the LTTE. Thus the LTTE was allowed to function freely within society and community to attract children through their propaganda and by exerting psychological pressure in the vacuum left by the abdication of social institutions. 


Psychological Consequences


Death and injury apart, the recruitment of children becomes even more abhorrent when one sees the psychological consequences. Children who surrendered or captured suffered from a range of conditions from neurotic conditions like somatisation, depression, post-traumatic stress order to more severe reactive psychosis and what has been termed malignant post-traumatic stress order. (Rosenbeck R, The Malignant post-Vietnam Stress Syndrome, Am J Orthopsychiatry, 1985: 55:2, 319-32). This leaves children as complete psychological and social wrecks. The use of child soldiers not did only devastate a future generation of tamil population but also created a sick generation of tamil youth who were victims of the three decade old conflict. Now that the dust is settling in post conflict Sri Lanka, the GoSL have to seize all opportunities to help children affected by the conflict to move forward, heal their trauma and resume their precious childhood. This is being done effectively now.


Gen. Patrick Cammaert the United Nations Special Envoy of the Special Representative of the Secretary-general for Children and Armed Conflict who visited Sri Lankan in December 2009, to ascertain first hand impact of the conflict, at a press conference held on 10 December 2009 said; 'The government of Sri Lanka is undertaking significant efforts to address the needs of internally displaced children and former child soldiers. However, more can be and should be done. The United Nations and partners are eager to support these efforts and to share their expertise in the best interest of the children concerned." He also said that he had been assured by Attorney general Mohan Peiris that the children formerly associated with armed groups were considered as victims and they would not be prosecuted.




In the aftermath of the war 594 children (363 x boys & 231 x girls) were given protection at the Protection Accommodation Rehabilitation Center PARC), at Ambepussa, Sri Lanka, which come under the Commissioner General for Rehabilitation appointed Child Protection Authority of Sri Lanka. This center provides vocational training, psychological counseling as well as cultural and sports activities. It not only provides a 'time out' for the children; it provides them critical skills which will help in reintegrating into society. Children under this rehabilitation center come under the jurisdiction of the Country's magistrate who monitors their progress. The goal is for the children to return to their homes and communities with skill sets for a livelihood. 273 have been provided formal education whilst the balance 321 has been provided with vocational training. (Source - PARC). However, any rehabilitation programme must be essentially preceded by a sincere adherence to the recommendations provided on the Machel Review of War Affected Children that;


"…child soldiers must be protected from retribution… and other punitive measures, in accordance with the Convention on the rights of the Child, and International juvenile justice standards. Any judicial proceedings involving child soldiers must be within a frame work of restorative justice that guarantees the physical, psychological and social rehabilitation of the child." (Graca Machel, Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, New York, United Nations:1996)


It is those responsible for recruiting, training and deploying child soldiers who should be charged as war criminals, not the child soldiers themselves who surrender or are captured. They should not be killed or treated as criminals, but offered appropriate psychological, socio-economic and educational opportunities for rehabilitation.


The only way to reduce this phenomenon of child soldiers is to work on the factors and issues discussed and described above. Towards this end civil society, the government, and the international community have an important role. In particular tamil community leaders both locally and in the diaspora need to take responsibility and voice their concerns equally to both sides. The international should also apply pressure to all sides to conduct within the norms such as the Geneva Convention and the Convention on the rights of the Child.


There may be conventions, legislations, regulations many norms that human beings should respect and follow. War, conflicts, terrorism or violence are manmade and are undemocratic modes to perceive their own rights or cause. What they do not or does not want to understand is that when they use the above means to communicate with their adversaries and win their rights they do harm others and violate human rights of others. Mankind very little understands that their actions do harm the children of today and generations of the future. Therefore, concluding remarks of Graca Machel in her report to the UN on the impact of armed conflict on children is very relevant:


"…the most effective way to protect children is to prevent outbreak of armed conflicts."


(Graca Machel, Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, New York, United Nations:1996).


Research Assistants

The following research assistants approved by the IUFS assisted me to prepare this article.


(i)           A.R.Waidyalankara   (M.Sc., LLM, LLB, Attorney-at-Law)

Senior Superintendent of Police

Director / Crimes, Police Headquarters,

Colombo 01, Sri Lanka.

(ii)          B.Mahil Dole

Senior Superintendent of Police

Staff Superintendent to I.G.Police

Police Headquarters, Colombo 01

        Sri Lanka.




UN      -        United Nations

UNO    -        United Nations Organization

ICC     -        International Criminal Court

OAU    -        Organization for African Unity

TULF   -        Tamil United Liberation Front

TNT    -        Tamil New Tigers

LTTE   -        Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

TELO   -        Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization

PLOTE-         Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam

EPRLF -        Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front

EROS  -        Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students

IPCS   -        Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies

PARC  -        Protection Accommodation @ Rehabilitation Center

GoSL   -        Government of Sri Lanka





1.    Adoption by the UN General Assembly of a new treaty prohibiting the use of children under age eighteen in combat Coalition to stop the use of Child Soldiers, New York, 25 May 2000.

2.    Children and Armed Conflict: International Law/United Nations by the Center for Defence Information, 12 October 2005.

3.    D. Suba Chandran, Assistant Director, IPCS. Sri Lanka, LTTE and Lakshman Kadirgamar: Revenge as an Ideology, 2005.

4.    Graca Machel, Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, New York, United Nations: 1996.

5.    Human Righjts Watch (HRW).

6.    L.K. Kadirgamar address to the International Conference on War Affected Children, Winnpeg, Canada, 17 September 2000.

7.    N.Manoharan, Research Officer IPCS, Child Soldiers of the LTTE iii, Article No. 1184, 21 October 2003.

8.    N. Manoharan, Research Officer IPCS, Child Soldiers ii: Preference for Children and Preference by Children, Article No. 1166, 30 September 2003).

9.    Peter Schalk, Temenos 33, Revival of Martyr Cult, 1997, Pp. 151-190.)

10.Rajat Ganguly/Ian Macduff, Ethnic Conflict and Secessionism in South and Southeast Asia, Sage Publications, New Delhi, India, 2003). p. 135.

11.Rosenbeck R, The Malignant post-Vietnam Stress Syndrome, Am J Orthopsychiatry, 1985: 55:2, 319-32). This leaves children as complete psychological and social wrecks.

12.Rohan Gunaratne, Sri Lanka's Ethnic Crisis and National Security, 1998). p.133.

13.Rohan Gunaratne, Child Combatants in Jane's Intelligence Review.

14.Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court - Article 08, War Crime.


15.World Press Review Vol. 51, No. 4, A Former Child Soldier Speaks Out, April 2004.

16.UNICEF: Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.